The other day, while the sun spread its rays, warm and inviting around us, I sat with a sweet little lady outside the lodge that she calls home.
Her name is Annie.
Annie looks good. Her eyes sparkle behind her glasses and the beautiful silver of her hair is picked up by a soft shawl of the same shade she has loosely wrapped around her shoulders.
I am instantly captivated by her smile and her warmth.
“Tell me your story,” I prod gently, my notebook ready, my left-hand itching to begin writing with my own scribble that I have perfected over the years to a scribble that only I can decipher.
She smiles and so it begins.
“I was born on Feb. 26, 1921,” she begins.
My gasp is audible. “That means you’re 100 years old,” I say incredulously.
“I am,” she said, smiling.
And as she reaches into the deep pockets of memories that span a century of living, she takes me back to days that, in my imagination, slowly come to life like the opening scenes of a movie like The Titanic.
“I was born in Russia,” she began.
“Wow, Russia,” I think, my mind immediately going to the movie, Dr. Zhivago and the snow-covered fields and the beautiful and tragic love story that slowly unfolded.
“Yes, I was born in Russia,” she continued, but when I was five years old, we left Russia. I later learned the family left Russia to flee persecution from the Bolsheviks.
I scribble furiously.
From there her story takes her on board a ship where the family travels for many weeks on the turbulent, ever changing waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Finally, after a brief stay in England, the family land in Montreal and finally on to the mostly unbroken prairie soil of Alberta.
And now the story continues as Annie becomes one of our own true pioneers, the days of her life etched forever in the pages of our history.
And as she talks, I see the tiny one room schoolhouse where she, painstakingly used every square inch of the paper allotted her so as to not waste paper.
“I thought I was going to get the strap,” she lamented. “Someone told on me because I was writing in the margin, but I was just trying to save paper.”
Annie, no doubt, came from the mind set of using everything up, of not wasting a scrap of paper, material or food.
I learn she had 11 siblings and, once again, I gasp.
And so, as we travel together through the decades of her life I am taken back in time to the days when water did not come from a tap, electricity from the flick of a light switch and you certainly did not turn the thermostat up if you were cold.
Those were the days when the golden prairie fields were dotted with stooks, neighbours worked side by side and the roar of threshing machines punctuated the dusty prairie air.
Annie’s story is one of many. Pioneers who lived through the changing fortunes of time. The depression of the dirty thirties, years of drought and scraping a living from nothing, and, no doubt, years when the rains would not stop. She lived through wars and she knows firsthand about hardship and sorrow and the true meaning of hard work.
But she also knows about love and laughter and the simple joys life can bring.
“It was a good life,” she said, quietly. “I never, ever felt poor, and I never went to bed hungry. We worked hard, but we had fun, too. “We never quarreled. We were happy. It seems like a fairy-tale, really,” she said with a sigh.
We finish the story and I blow her a kiss. And as I drive home through the hills and fields that are slowly waking to the breath of spring, I reflect on her words.
And I think we should all be so lucky as to have lived a good life, a simple life, enriched by the satisfaction of working hard, playing hard and through it all, loving hard.
It seems like an easy recipe for a life well lived.
Treena Mielke is a central Alberta writer. She lives in Sylvan Lake with her family.